What if the way to break through our polarized politics was to reward those willing to cross the partisan divide for the greater good?
America is mired in a dysfunctional stew of hyper-partisanship. Too many view members of the opposing political party as enemies and not fellow Americans. Not to mention this environment can make it difficult to govern. A multitude of books have been written about how we ended up this way. Some of those books have even offered suggestions on how we can move beyond this hyper-partisan doom loop.
In her book “Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity,” Lilliana Mason writes that it was not long ago that the parties were demographically and ideologically hard to tell apart. Those days are long gone. Americans’ identities have grown increasingly linked with their political party and their dislike for the opposition. A 2016 Pew Research survey found that for the first time in more than 20 years, majorities of Democrats and Republicans held very unfavorable views of their partisan opponents. I imagine that number has only grown since 2016.
This type of hyper-partisanship is rewarded in primary elections, when ideologically pure primary voters tend to dominate. Compromise, which is a requirement for effective governing, becomes a victim to a polarized electorate. Many elected officials who have worked across the aisle are punished for it. Maybe the incentives can change during general elections to benefit a wider range of voters.
There are several examples of patriots who are willing to cross partisan lines for the good of their citizens, constituents and the country.
Alaska’s Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she plans on ranking (Alaska uses ranked choice voting) Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola first in the U.S. House race. Murkowski, seeking reelection, will also be on the ballot. Murkowski told reporters that she has been a Republican since registering to vote at age 18, and that she still believes in party tenets of limited government and strong national defense — but feels no obligation to stick to partisan orthodoxy.
“I know that bothers some people who want me to be that rigid, partisan person, and I’m just not. I’m not, haven’t been, and I won’t be,” Murkowski said. “I do not toe the party line just because party leaders have asked or because it may be expected. My first obligation is to the people of the state of Alaska.”
In solidly Republican Utah, the Republican and senior senator, Mike Lee, is facing a worthy challenger in his fight for reelection. Former Republican Evan McMullin, who has built a broad coalition, is running as an independent to unseat Lee. Utah Democrats, aiming not to split the anti-Lee vote, strategically decided to back McMullin rather than nominate a Democrat. Texts have been released showing Lee telling then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that he was engaged in an attempt just before the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection to find a way to declare Donald Trump the winner of the presidential election.
In Arizona, nearly 50 Republican and independent leaders, including elected officials, small-business owners, and community leaders, launched “Republicans for Kelly,” endorsing Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly’s reelection campaign. Kelly, a former astronaut and businessman, is running against Republican Blake Masters. The election-denying Masters has scrubbed his website of controversial topics.
The Pennsylvania governor’s race pits Democrat Josh Shapiro against Republican Doug Mastriano. Nearly 20 prominent Pennsylvania Republicans have endorsed Shapiro, including Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security secretary under President George W. Bush. Chertoff said, “I dedicated my career in public service to upholding the rule of law and defending the Constitution. Right now, we all have a responsibility to support candidates of whichever party who will stand up and defend our democracy.”
In Missouri, St. Louis County voters will have the opportunity for some of the same. Katherine Pinner won the GOP primary in August for St. Louis County executive but dropped out of the race in early September. The county Republican Central Committee convinced Democrat Mark Mantovani to switch parties and run as the GOP candidate against incumbent Democrat Sam Page. The committee had enough forethought to offer voters a palatable option, a candidate who is committed to solving the problems facing the county.
All of these heroes have chosen country, state or county over party. In an “us versus them” climate, these examples show the U.S. how to be just us. They deserve our praise and maybe even our vote.
Lynn Schmidt is a columnist and Editorial Board member of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.